Why we need to get active on air pollution

Comparison of deaths in Scotland attributable to different sources

Comparison of deaths in Scotland attributable to different sources

On Sunday we released our list of the most polluted streets in Scotland with St John’s Road in Edinburgh and Hope Street in Glasgow changing places at the top of this roll of shame. In our analysis we looked at official Scottish Government data for two harmful pollutants, nitrogen dioxide (NO2) and coarse particles (PM10), which are known to be linked with serious health problems including heart attacks, strokes, respiratory illnesses like asthma and early death.

Email Finance Secretary John Swinney now to tackle air pollution 
We found that streets broke safety standards for these pollutants in each of our four major cities, which highlighted just how widespread and serious a problem air pollution is. Smaller towns are also affected with Perth, Falkirk and Rutherglen on Glasgow’s fringe also breaking safety standards. We know that the annual death toll attributable to fine particle air pollutants (PM2.5) alone is 2094 people in Scotland. To put that figure in context, air pollution claims 10 times as many lives as those who die in road traffic accidents.

Air pollution is dangerous as it increases our risk of strokes, asthma attacks and heart attacks. This BBC Scotland documentary recently investigated whether our love affair with the car was making us sick. It featured an interview with the Chief Medical Officer who highlighted how air pollution affects the most vulnerable in society the worst – the sick, the elderly, and children – making it a multiplier of social deprivation.

Car ownership in Scotland

Car ownership in Scotland

Car Sick also left the Transport Minister exposed when he was forced to admit that the Government only spent 1.9% of its transport budget on active travel.

With the VW scandal, our invisible problem – and the main culprit – of air pollution has been brought into clearer focus. We know that our overreliance on the car to get from A to B is creating a myriad of other problems too for our society: climate emissions, risks to pedestrians, and sedentary lifestyles. Thankfully however, we have the solutions ready to go – we just need the political will to implement them.

We need to significantly boost our investment in clean transport solutions such walking, cycling and public transport. The Government managed to find £3billion for dualling 80 miles of road between Perth and Inverness, but funding for active travel schemes for the whole of Scotland in 2016 accounts for just £41million (just a wee bit more than that lucky couple in Hawick won in the Lotto!) The draft spending for building new motorways and trunk roads in 2016 alone is £820 million, nearly 20 times as much!

Comparison of Scot Govt spending

Comparison of Scot Govt spending

The Government’s ‘Cleaner Air for Scotland’ Strategy has good aspirations but needs resources and energy behind it to tackle the scourge of dirty air and take steps such as implementing low emission zones in cities. Edinburgh Council Transport Convener Lesley Hinds has called on the government to support local authorities with funding to deliver their strategy.

The man who holds the Government purse strings, John Swinney, has a big decision to make regarding what he spends our money on. Does he continue to turn millions into motorways or does he want help tackle the public health crisis of air pollution?

By investing in active travel schemes he could create safer, segregated cycle lanes, support school education programmes to change our transport culture and make our pavements more attractive to pedestrians. The Scottish Government’s vision is for 10% of all journeys to be taken by bicycle by 2020. Its 2016 and we’re not yet at 3% so we’ve got a mountain to climb. By building more roads we’ll encourage yet more driving and actually worsen the air pollution problem.

We’re calling on him to redirect just 1% of the transport budget earmarked for major roads into active travel instead. If we make the investment now it will pay dividends in improved public health, reduced climate emissions and tackling the scourge of air pollution.

So click on the image below to take our Email Action Now and call on Finance Secretary John Swinney to clear the air!

Email John Swinney now

Comparison of Scottish Government spending.

P.S. Thanks to Spokes Cycle Campaign for much of the financial data used in this post. You can read more about their proposal and their action to MSPs here.

Emilia Hanna is Friends of the Earth Scotland’s air pollution campaigner. Follow her on Twitter

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